V3con held a digital media mirror up to Asian Americans

The V3 conference for Asian America Digital Media, which was held August 25 in Los Angeles, was a landmark event. It was the first time that Asian American media from both journalism and the blogosphere gathered together to discuss their online presence and share their knowledge and skills.

The conference grew out of a similar event, the Banana conference that celebrated Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) bloggers. Erin and I were a panelist at the first Banana conference in 2009, and helped organize Banana 2 last year, which was produced with help from IW Group, an Asian American media and marketing agency.

For V3, which was presented by the Asian American Journalists Association’s Los Angeles chapter, I was the Director of Programming. I decided the topics of the panels and chose most of the panelists, from sessions on Asian Americans in politics (moderated by MSNBC anchor Richard Lui) to a plenary session on the increase of AAPIs in mainstream Hollywood movies, TV series and even commercials. We held serious sessions on how Asian Americans can use social media for non-profit organizations and causes, as well as pop-culture topics like how anime and manga are evolving in the digital era.

The conference was a success, with 500 attendees who filled the sessions, which were held at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. Attendees enjoyed a Friday night Opening Reception and Awards Ceremony at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena. But numbers weren’t the only measure of success.

V3 was a great success because we held up a mirror to people who may be bloggers or aspiring journalists, or perhaps avid readers and news audiences. They looked into this mirror and saw … themselves.

It’s still rare to see Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in positions of influence in the media, as experts, as reporters, as anchors and as leaders. V3 brought together our leaders, and inspired the next generation of AAPIs to aspire to work in digital media.

We began the conference by recognizing some of those leaders at an Awards Ceremony during the opening night reception, which was emceed by Lui, one of the most high-profile Asian American on national news. The awards are inspired by the conference’s slogan: “Vision. Visibility. Voice.” These are attributes we’re trying to nurture within Asian Americans, and for our community as a whole.

The Vision Award for lifetime achievement is a continuation of the “Banana” awards for lifetime achievment that were given out at V3’s nascent Banana confabs. The first Banana award went to Phil Yu for his Angry Asian Man blog, a must-read for anyone interested in Asian America. The second Banana award went to Nelson Wong, who’s been covering Asian Americans in entertainment since 1990 on his AA Risings blog.

This year, the renamed Vision Award went to Jeff Yang, a tireless writer and AAPI cultural commentator/historian.

Yang founded the early (and in the eyes of many, the best) Asian American national magazine, A Magazine, back in 1989, as an outgrowth of a publication he started while attending Harvard. He spent many years writing the “Asian Pop” column for the San Francisco Chronicle, which ill-advisedly dropped all its bloggers including Yang for budget reasons, and Yang was immediately picked up by the Wall Street Journal and now writes the “Tao Jones” clumn (great frickin’ title). In the meantime, Yang’s produced a stack of books about Asian and Asian American popular culture, including martial arts superstar Jackie Chan’s authorized autobiography. He also edited “Secret Identities,” a graphic novel anthology of Asian American superhero comics. The second “Secret Identities” volume, “Shattered” is due out this fall. Yang has spent his entire career covering Asian America, and he’s the most thoughtful and most influential observer of our community today.

We gave out two Visibility Awards because our honorees have been able to increase out visibility in two distinct media sectors: Lisa Ling is one of the best-known Asian American journalists on television. She was a co-host of the popular daytime talk show “The View,” and she’s the host of “National Geographic Explorer” and a special correspondent for CNN and the “Oprah Winfrey Show.” Her documentary series, “Our America with Lisa Ling” airs on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Singer-songwriter David Choi is one of those YouTube superstars who has almost a million subscribers who have viewed his music videos over 115 million times.

And the Voice Award for establishing a strong online voice for Asian Americans, went to Joz Wang, who is a co-editor for the group blog 8 Asians as well as her own blog, JozJozJoz.

In between the awards we had terrific (but short) performances by Ipo Pharr, Andrew Figueroa Chiang and Jan Lui — I highly recommend you support their careers and buy their music right away. Lui, whose reputation as an artist of note is more established, was a panelist at Banana 2, but I wasn’t familiar with the other two, who are young, bright upcoming talents.

The conference itself began really early for organizers. I was at the Japanese American National Museum at 5:30 am to help set up. Staff from the IW Group, which helped manage the complex logistics of the conference, showed up early too, and then the crew from AAJA-LA and volunteers. I spent about 20 minutes just holding the door open so the catering crew from McDonalds, which was a sponsor and provided some great healthy breakfasts and smoothies, could bring in all their equipment.

The conference began with two fascinating plenary sessions moderated by veteran TV newsmen. David Ono of KABC in LA discussed the rise of Asian Americans on mainstream Hollywood media — TV shows, movies and especially commercials — as well as the continuing lack of AAPIs and coverage of Asian Americans in mainstream news media with Richard Lui, Jeff Yang and Joz Wang. Actress Lynn Chen was booked for the panel but sadly, her father died unexpectedly and she was with her family, though she was acknowledged in spirit, and her friend Lisa Lee read a statement from Chen before the panel.

The second plenary, moderated by Frank Buckley of KTLA5, featured David Choi, singer-songwriter Clara Chung (who’s touring with Choi throughout the U.S. this fall) and filmmaker Stephen Dypiangco of National Film Society, who with his partner Patrick Epino create funny and thoughtful videos as part of PBS Digital Studios.

The morning plenary sessions were followed by lunch provided by Panda Express (which also catered the Opening Night Reception with some classy appetizers) — who doesn’t like their Orange Chicken and smoky Chow Mein, even if it is American Chinese? Another sponsor, Verizon, also held gadget demonstrations to introduce attendees to the future of hardware and wireless networking.

After lunch, I rushed around from session to session and didn’t get to stay in any one panel for an entire hour (except for the one I moderated). But the discussions I heard and and the crowds in most of the sessions were signs that people were connecting to the programming, and were taking the topics of each panel out into hallways and the JANM plaza to continue the conversation. More than a few people came up to me and used the word “inspiring” to describe the day, which is exactly what we were hoping to achieve, so I felt good about that.

My panel, “Smackdown: Journalists vs Bloggers” wasn’t really a big ugly fight, even though I opened it with a deep-voiced imitation of the boxing announcer and told the standing-room only crowd, “Let’s get to rrrrrrumbbbble!” The panel featured journalist Alden Habacon, who is the publisher of Schema Magazine in Canada, Henry Furhmann, assistant managing editor at the Los Angeles Times, Phil Yu of Angry Asian Man and Adam Chau of the sometimes in-your-face blog Slant Eye for the Round Eye. The conversation was really about how newspapers used to resist blogging but now many papers requires reporters to blog, and we discussed issues around journalistic values in the age of blogging, and whether blogging is journalism if it breaks news that reporters haven’t reported yet. The Q&A with the audience also gave food for thought, and we all figured we could have extended the panel for another hour.

(NOTE: You can find brief bios for all the V3con speakers, moderators, presenters and performers online.)

During the 4 o’clock hour when my panel was held, three other sessions took place that I wished to hell I could have sat in on: “Political action: Raising the Asian American profile in politics,” “Comic relief: Anime and manga in the digital era” and “Cover to cover: Are AAPIs embracing eBooks?.” You can see the full day’s schedule online.

The day ended with a rousing session called Bloggers Showcase in JANM’s large Central Hall, led by Banana founder Lac Su and personal brand trainer Erin Yoshimura. Attendees assembled in the room and were asked by the moderators to search for other people interested in their area, whether it was politics or food, fashion or pop culture. Then in each group, people were asked to volunteer and explain their blog. As each speaker finished, Erin urged the crowd to send energy their way by waving hands in the person’s direction and yelling “BLOG ON!”

There were lots of highlights that will stay with me, but a couple stand out.

One was seeing Ipo Pharr and Andrew Figueroa Chiang, the young performers from Opening Night after the reception, packed up to leave but hovering and eager to meet David Choi, who was a role model for them. They told Choi how they were inspired (there’s that word!) by his videos on YouTube to make their own music and feel confident about their talent as performers and as songwriters. It was a perfect reflection of why Choi deserved the Visibility Award. The two of them, and Pharr’s percussionist Alex Kang were excited to pose with Choi for a photograph.

Another highlight was meeting Eileen and Chloe Hsu, sisters who are 16 and 13 years old, who maintain a terrific, lively blog, Cool Asian Kids. They wanted to attend V3 so they volunteered to tweet and Facebook live during the conference, and blog about it on the V3con website. They also wrote about their V3con experience on their own site afterwards. They’re adorable, and articulate, saying “We actually put in hard work at V3con,” and I can vouch that they did. Their parents dropped them off and picked them up both Friday night and Saturday, and they were troopers who worked very hard right alongside the organizers. They’re fine young writers who will develop into tomorrow’s AAPI media leaders.

I hope these young women saw a reflection of what’s possible for them at V3con (in spite of the moments of stress and trauma), and were inspired by attending. I can say with certainty that their talent and dedication inspired me.

Something tells me they’ll be part of V3 in 2012 — the date has already been announced for the conference which will be held again at JANM: Saturday, June 15.

LINKS

Cool Asian Kids: We Actually Put in Hard Work at V3Con.

Cool Asian Kids: V3Con Reception: Vision, Visibility and Voice (and Food!)

Into the Next Stage column by George Johnston in the Rafu Shimpo: Past, Present and Future Meet at Pacific Citizen, Pt II (see the last section)

Ted Nguyen: V3 conference awards top media honors to Lisa Ling, Jeff Yang, David Choi and Joz Wang

Ted Nguyen: America’s fastest-growing group transforming digital media with groundbreaking V3 Conference Aug. 25

Betty Ming Liu: How to spend 36 hours in Little Tokyo, L.A., with photos

Ideate TV’s Isabelle Du was on hand to record lots of individual interviews with panelists and presenters including Lisa Ling on Friday night. Here’s her interview with me:

Fashion and Beauty panelist Jackie Perdue on her trip to LA to spaek at V3con:

Garick Chan’s video from Opening Night:

YouTube user Vale952000 videotaped the entire comics panel moderated by Jeff Yang in 11 parts, starting with this one:

Just for fun, here’s a timeline of tweets and photos from V3con that I assembled using Storify.

Here’s a new (Sept. 6) and long (13 mins) video from Ted Nguyen, who moderated a panel on the business of blogging:

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